Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: play

Toying with Fun

Recently I discovered this virtual LEGO builder. It’s perfect for those who don’t have the money or the space to buy a bunch of LEGO bricks.

LEGO was one of my favorite toys while I was growing up. Basically, I had all these building blocks and I could build any damn thing I wanted. I was only limited by my imagination. Most of the other toys I had were what I considered to be gender neutral. A robot, wooden models of dinosaur skeletons, stuffed toys, a light microscope (which turned out to be somewhat prophetic as I still use microscopes–for work). At one point, I also had some My Little Ponies although nowadays, one could make the argument that those are gender neutral as well.

Another time, I had somehow convinced my parents to buy me a gigantic purple makeup case. I was fascinated by it because it had all these compartments inside. But being me, I didn’t use it for makeup storage at all. Instead, I turned it into my personal curio case which I had stuffed with minerals, shells, miniatures, and other assorted odd things. Eventually I had so much stuff, it overflowed into a large green case that was supposed to be for art supplies but, well, I certainly wasn’t going to use it for its intended purpose as I wasn’t the arty one in my family.

Dolls and action figures were another matter. I didn’t like toys as representations of people. Was I a budding misanthropist? I don’t think so, but I’m sure back then, I probably couldn’t have been able to articulate exactly why I disliked those sorts of toys. In hindsight, it had far more to do with my personality and my priorities for play rather than cultural baggage or any feminist notions.

So what the heck do I mean by “priorities for play”? It means my reasons for playing with toys. I wanted to have fun, of course, but my idea of fun involves imagination and curiosity. Robots and microscopes and, yes, even ponies are toys built for imagination and/or curiosity. Dolls (and to some extent, action figures) don’t fit those two purposes so well. When you’re playing with a doll in the typical way (and not setting fire to it to figure out its combustible properties), you are mimicking real life. And personally, when I play, I look for the extraordinary, the wonderful, the fascinating. Not the mundane.

Other people might find dolls extraordinary, wonderful, and fascinating. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that when they’re playing with dolls, the fun they’re having is quantitatively or even qualitatively different than the fun that I’m having with my stuff. But I suggest that sort of fun they’re having is possibly different than mine. Do they activate different parts of the brain? I have no idea–but it would be an interesting study.

I have no problem with what people play with as long as it’s their own choice to play with that toy. Toys are for fun. It’s only when certain toys are forced upon a kid or are marketed towards a certain segment of the population that I think toys cease to be fun. Instead, they become tools to either enforce or break social norms.

So, back to the toy that started all this–LEGO. I’d say, go, play with it because it’s fun. And if you hate LEGO, then go play with something else! The whole point is to not let others dictate your play. Listen to yourself and play what you want to play.

We Need Skydiving with Microscopes

In a recent conversation, a post-doc expressed her disbelief that our boss’s kid was extremely upset after a sports injury when she was majoring in something completely different at college.

I explained: “When you can no longer do something that you love, of course it’s going to make you sad.”  If something that you enjoy for fun is no longer accessible to you, wouldn’t you fall into a depression, too?

The post-doc didn’t get it.  In her thinking, the kid should have been relieved that the injury wasn’t so serious as to prevent school work from being done.

This got me thinking about different mindsets.  There’s this saying in academia about “working hard and playing hard.”  People do both, but it seems that they only truly care about one or the other.  For one person, career and academics are the only important things.  Everything else is extraneous, a way to let off steam, or merely a means to an end.  Dividing one’s attention is deemed frivolous and unfocused.  For other people, passions aren’t restrained to any one thing.  Spreading it out, for them, is evidence of a full, well-rounded life.

People can be successful with either mindset.  Yet I find myself wavering, in limbo.  To the singularly focused, I may seem like a dabbler.  Some find it abhorrent that I’m not chained to the lab bench 24/7 let alone frittering away my time scribbling in this blog.  And then there are others who are too polite (or not) to tell me that I’m a dud for not taking advantage of every  weekend to go skiing, paragliding, or even attending stamp collecting conventions.

In either case, I kind of feel bad for not being driven enough to suit certain tastes.  Or not interesting enough to be bothered with.  But there’s nothing I can do about it.  So I’ll just keep trudging along, as I am.